Thursday, September 29 2022

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It was only fitting that the Toronto Maple Leafs would halt the Bruins in their tracks with a somewhat thrilling win on Tuesday night. Boston had been chasing the Buds and Bolts since early December, right about the time the Leafs goaltending began it’s descent into futility.

The score wasn’t really indicative of a two-goal game, with a margin that spanned a 6-1 score at some point, but Toronto took advantage of Bruins early errors, caused havoc in transition and capitalized with the man advantage, eventually chasing starter Jeremy Swayman from the crease and held on in the third period despite aggression, and being down two defensemen and losing their starting goalie, Petr Mrazek.

Considering Boston’s 14-2-1 record in their past 17 games entering into Tuesday night’s tilt, they’re allowed a stinker every once in a while. It just so happened to be against the Leafs, a team they potentially could meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Build Up

By the end of November, Boston had played 19 games, and banked 22 points, with division rivals, Toronto Maple Leafs banking 33 in 23 games. The Tampa Bay Lightning earned 28 standing points in 21 games. Separation between the three teams would continue to widen in December, before a series of cancellations forced teams to rebook games for later dates. The disparity carried over into January before normalizing games played over February and March 2022.

By New Years, the Bruins 26 games played yielded 30 points, in comparison to 47 in 33 games for the Lightning, and 42 points in 30 games for the Leafs. Boston would bottom out in goals for and goals against in December 2021. It was a true low point in the season, and even more of a wonder that they’re battling for a top-3 spot in the division – despite Tuesday’s setback.

Entering the game against Toronto on Tuesday, their performance on a monthly basis is documented in the chart below. Each team is shown with their representative month end cumulative point totals.

Data used in this article is courtesy of Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick and MoneyPuck.com.

The disparity in games played had a part to in the separation in points, but Boston has made that a moot point, catching up to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning leading up to the Bruins Tuesday night clash with the Leafs.

bruins_standings.pngbruins_standings.png

bruins_standings.png

The games played disparity is captured in the monthly games played. The Bruins would make up some of the games in January from cancelations in December, before the normalization in February and March.

gp_per_mth.pnggp_per_mth.png

gp_per_mth.png

To show the distinction from goals scored and against, I’ve put together these two visuals below. The top charts shows the average goals for per game per month, with the bottom chart showing the cumulative value for the month.

Taking January for instance, with Boston playing 16 games, it’s clear that they will have scored more goals – and theoretically allowed more – by the amount of sheer games played. However, when normalizing goals for/against as a rate stat, Tampa bay and Toronto were scoring at slightly better rates than the Bruins, with Toronto showing that scoring prowess continuing into February and March.

bos_gf_by_mth.pngbos_gf_by_mth.png

bos_gf_by_mth.png

Goals against has a similar pattern, but it’s a lot more trouble for the Leafs, who have seen their goaltending fall into a crater since early December. Tampa Bay had a dismal beginning to the season, allowing a whopping 4.55 goals against per game in October, before settling into the just under three goals range the rest of the way. The Leafs were in the 2.4 range until December, and have seen a somewhat sharper incline, topping out over 3.01 goals per game in March 2022. Jack Campbell and the inconsistent Petr Mrazek haven’t been the pillars in the crease the Leafs had expected them to be and it set their trade deadline afire, with possible goaltending upgrades.

bos_ga_by_mth.pngbos_ga_by_mth.png

bos_ga_by_mth.png

But this is about the Bruins. Boston added blueliner Hampus Lindholm to an already stable blueline and given them stability for years to come.

Their defense and goaltending have had significant makeovers since the days of Tuukka Rask manning the crease, and Zdeno Chara patrolling the blueline. They’ve added components up front to address scoring depth, keeping Jake DeBrusk as part of that scoring solution.

This run over the last 20 or so games has been crazy good for the Bruins, with two road trips, one of the West coast, a five game win streak, a four, three and two game win streaks.

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THE STREAK

Before losing to the Leafs, consider that Boston won 15 games outright, with an average 102.75 PDO, earning points in two of their five losses for a total of 32 during that span. They’ve averaged 3.35 goals for per game and 2.32 goals against per game, with nine goals at 5v4 in 48 chances (an almost pedestrian 18.75% efficiency). Contrast that with 11 goals against in 55 times shorthanded, an 80% efficiency, making their penalty kill less effective over time, but balanced with exceptional power play.

They did it working primarily with rookie, Jeremy Swayman in goal. Over that span, he’s posted a .939 save percentage in all situations, and a 1.21 goals against average, just absolute savage results for a 23-year old goaltender with 41 total career games played. Linus Ullmark, the other goaltender was given more responsibility earlier in the season, but the starter role flipped to Swayman as the calendar flipped from January to February. The Leafs chased Swayman to give Ullmark some time in the loss as well.

Other tweaks featured the forward line shuffled from the usual David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron unit, moving Jake DeBrusk – who wasn’t moved despite a trade request earlier in the season – up to the first line and moving Pastrnak to a unit with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula. The table below shows the Bruins lines ranked by time on ice, and highlighting the two lines and their results al att 5v5 – no special teams.

bruins_lines.pngbruins_lines.png

bruins_lines.png

For Goals above expected, the desired value is positive, and for goals against, negative. Many of these stats are dependent on the responsibility of each line when on the ice, and the Bruins ‘power kill’ – offense generated when killing a penalty – is exemplary.

Both highlighted lines have produced better than expected results defensively, but the Bergeron line without Pastrnak has struggled to put up the exceptional offensive results at 5v5.

Against the Leafs Coach Bruce Cassidy started the Trent Frederic, Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith line against the Leafs Matthews line, showing how the coaching staff can strategize outside of a power versus power structure that exemplified most of these two teams meeting in the past.

The Bruins faced adversity throughout this 20 game span and one loss can just be a bump on the road. The dog fight for a top two and three spot is going to be fierce – assuming the Panthers can hold on to first overall with less than 20 games left in the season.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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